U.N. chief discusses world situation in visit

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Ever the local advocate, John Brackney, president of the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce, talked up the metro area to none other than Ban Ki-moon, secretary general of the United Nations, during a luncheon at the Oxford Hotel in Denver on June 7.

Ban was in town to speak at the University of Denver commencement ceremony, but first he attended The Denver Forum’s luncheon at the invitation of Colorado’s former U.S. Sen. Tim Wirth, who now sits on the U.N. Foundation’s board. Wirth described Ban’s job as perhaps more difficult than being president of the United States.

“Dealing with 435 congressmen is hard, but dealing with 193 countries, each of which believes they have the paramount voice in the United Nations, is even harder,” he said.

The U.N.’s military, with 110,000 troops in 15 countries, is outnumbered only by that of the United States. The U.N. vaccinates 60 percent of the world’s children and serves 90 million people a day, up to 36,000 of them refugees like those currently fleeing Syria as rebel forces and the government engage in deadly battle.

Asked whether the United States should get involved in the Syrian crisis, Ban said it’s a sensitive subject, but he expects all leading nations to convene a peace conference on the matter next month in Geneva. In the meantime, the U.N.’s humanitarian arm has asked the agency for more than $5 billion to help the millions of people affected by the conflict.

“We can’t let the Syrian people continue to die this way,” Ban told the audience of about 200 people. “The entire nation has been destroyed now.” He blames the inflexible attitude of the country’s leader, Bashar al-Assad, who refuses even to allow humanitarian workers within Syria’s borders.

Ban called on the global community to show compassion to developing countries like Syria, now set back even further by the recent destruction. By working together, he said, “We can move challenges from the world’s inbox to the world’s outbox.”

A key to that, he said, is expanding the use of renewable energy to all corners of the earth. He called it the “golden thread” that addresses all problems, as it makes possible technology, transportation, health, education — virtually all aspects of life.

“We cannot keep burning and mining our way to prosperity,” he said.

He declared sustainable development the U.N.’s top priority for his second term, which runs through 2016.

“There can be no plan B, because there is no planet B,” he said. “There is only planet A.”

Ban believes focusing on sustainability will reduce global conflict, much of which results from real or perceived inequities in resources.

“As we strive for sustainable development, we need to strive for sustainable peace,” he said. “When people are hungry and poor and sick, there can be no human rights. There can be no peace.”

That’s true in particular, he notes, for women and children.

“During times of conflict, there are always women and girls whose human rights are totally abused,” said Ban. To that end, he launched the U.N. Network of Men Leaders to eradicate such violence.

“Unless men change their mentality, this violence can’t be addressed, can’t be rectified,” he said. “I have been talking to kings and prime ministers and presidents, telling them that this is not acceptable.”

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